HBO Max’s Velma was supposed to be a win for several reasons. It has a star-studded (and diverse) voice cast including Mindy Kaling (Velma), Constance Wu (Daphne), and Sam Richardson (Norville, aka Shaggy). It’s a subversive, gender-bending, race-reversing take on the original. And it’s about time the intelligent bobbed sleuth gets her due. It was even the most-watched premiere of an animated series on the platform when the first episode dropped on Jan. 12. But, jinkies. Velma is tanking on IMDB. Users are review-bombing the series, giving it a 1.3 out of 10, making it the worst-rated animated show in IMDB history. Similarly, it got a 6% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
In Velma, the more adult HBO Max cartoon spinoff of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!, the titular Velma Dinkley swears off solving mysteries until a murder is pinned on her and she’s forced to go back to her old crime-solving ways to clear her name. Though the beloved Great Dane is missing from this HBO Max show, the rest of the original Scooby Gang appears. But just two episodes in, the show already receiving a ton of backlash. And its producer, Kaling, is in the eye of the controversy, with fans drawing parallels between Velma and the rest of Kaling’s repertoire. Here’s everything to know about the Velma and Mindy Kaling controversy. Bustle reached out to HBO and Kaling for comment but did not hear back at the time of publication.
For starters, critics pointed out that instead of celebrating her South Asian heritage, Velma loathes her physical attributes, including her “hairy gorilla arm.” While the self-deprecating comment is forgivable on its own, fans noticed that self-loathing is a recurring theme in most — if not all — of Kaling’s protagonists including the titular Mindy from The Mindy Project, Devi from Never Have I Ever, as well as Bela from The Sex Lives of College Girls. Twitter further noted that the characters even associated these “undesirable” traits with their Indian heritage. Devi makes a similar comment in NHIE, where she says she knows body hair is “an Indian thing” before complaining about looking like “the frigging floor of a barbershop.” A HuffPost essay points out that the jokes are “reminiscent of the world roughly a decade ago” and perpetuate “trite stereotypes about Indians” as well as tired beauty standards.
Meanwhile, when Kaling’s characters aren’t denigrating their South Asian traits, they often want to distance themselves from their heritage. In a recent Catapult essay, writer Zeahaa Rehman points out that on The Mindy Project, her heritage “never seemed to be a big part of her identity.”
Twitter is also upset over the fact that Velma likes a white boy. One user wrote, “So, Velma is a brown girl in this show, and Fred is a racist, rude douchebag?! In addition, she’s CRUSHING on him at the same time acknowledging that he’s rude.” Critics pointed out that while the show should’ve been a win for South Asian women, Velma’s interest in a douche-y and racist white guy (Fred) centers whiteness as a source of validation and, in fact, is another throughline among Kaling’s projects. In Never Have I Ever, Devi often spoke about her goal of having a “white boyfriend.”
Online critics are calling out Kaling’s characters’ for having “internalized racism.” A Twitter user wrote, “This is Mindy’s career basically.”
A Buzzfeed essay points out that fans think Kaling’s resumé showcases her “artistic laziness,” that the formulaic narrative arc of a nerdy Indian protagonist pursuing a mediocre white man is “a sign that Kaling’s comedy has gotten stale, and that her politics have fallen behind the times.”
When Kaling was promoting Velma last October, she raised the hopes of many when she told Entertainment Weekly: “The essence of Velma is not necessarily tied to her whiteness. And I identify so much as her character, and I think so many people do, so it’s like, yeah, let’s make her Indian in this series.”
It may be difficult for many to separate Kaling from the projects and the characters because she’s spoken about drawing from her own life when creating her shows. She previously spoke about how The Mindy Project and Never Have I Ever “felt adjacent” to her personal experiences, while for The Sex Lives of College Girls, Kaling drew from her own life. She previously told Bustle, “Not to be that person that’s like, ‘[Sex] scared me, so I want[ed] to write about it.’ But, a little bit, it did.”
Still, some pointed out that it’s likely, not fair for the internet to descend upon The Office alum.
“The actual writers behind the Velma show seeing mindy kailing get the lashings they should be getting,” one user wrote.